Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Angel of Death



Some time in June a search and destroy party arrives in the back perennial flower garden and sets to work reducing the biomass. You could call this weeding, but really that homely term doesn’t do it justice. The party of one, who has christened herself the Angel of Death, brings a civilizing influence to the wild overgrowth she encounters.
She wants to drain the swamps to eliminate disease. She wants to thin the heavy rushes back to the borders of polite, thinly-fingered Maiden Grass to flush mosquitoes out of their hiding places. She runs her critical eye over planting beds thickly strewn with low, middling, and tall plants and decides which of these things is unlike the others. She vows to put an end to overweening stalky intruders, sniff out volunteers masquerading as “real plants,” counterattack aggressive colonies which have expanded well beyond their natural and historic borders. She wants to know what she can get rid of.
At the end of her reign of terror, an afternoon or so, old friends have re-emerged from the overgrowth. Larger shrubs once again have rounded forms, full sides, feet which touch the ground. Pathways emerge where wilderness had threatened to close over the roads. Little flowering things drink fresh air into their lungs, pleasantly surprised to see the sun once more.
Death is part of life, the Angel says. Foresters know that “trees kill trees.” If you don’t thin the herd in the woodlot, none of your trees will grow tall and strong and full. Every thesis, the dialectical philosophers used to say, generates an antithesis. Without the “editing” shears, clippers and (on occasion) shovel the Angel brings to the management of the “world” of the perennial garden, overpopulation will overthrow the balance of nature. There will be no room left for babies, children, all manner of little guys taking root where soil and sun meet, until some monstrous plague arrives to kill off all the unweeded elders.
The poets back her up. That outraged Puritan, the young Prince Hamlet, images his mother’s world of license and decay as “an unweeded garden, rank and gone to seed.” We know what “seedy” means. We don’t like “swamps.”
And so the wilderness vision of the Creator takes a beating around this time every year. In early spring, given the illusion of a blank slate, the Creator plants anew, divides and transplants, acquires new births of floral beauty, re-arranges the furniture to give more scope to favored children, and finds new homes entirely for laggards which may yet be saved by the right conditions. He hopes all his ventures prosper.
But, inevitably, when his plants do prosper, they soon begin to get in one another’s way. The creator unsheathes his grass clippers to primp and trim and cull and prune, relying also on his supple fingers to slip out the unwanted species by the roots from the midst of those many mixed border regions where worlds collide. But those clipped edges and policed borders soon run riot again. He’ll be fine-tuning all summer, running from hotspot to hotspot, and dangerously close to losing the war.
He needs an intervention.
I am here, says the Angel. I will deliver you from chaos. I will restore order to the universe and vision to the eye – Look! Thou may behold the big picture once more.
Just don’t watch me work.